There's a certain mysterious quality attached to the names of top consulting firms. What do MBB (McKinsey, BCG & Bain) actually do? Are they bankers? Accountants? Strategy advisors? It's actually a mix of a lot of things, and that's what makes consulting so exciting.
Before you read the details, here's the bottom-line: Consulting involves solving a range of problems for companies (such as "how do we double our revenue?" or "how can we make customers happier?") in short-term projects. Consultants build up expertise in these areas over time, and often draw from their experiences in different industries.
So with that out of the way – what's a day in the life of a consultant? The one thing you can expect is change. The job varies from case to case (a case is any project you are staffed on) and typically you switch cases every 3 months. I'm currently on a strategy case in social impact, and this is how a typical day goes.
9am – Morning huddle: You start out with a quick morning catch-up with your team, which is usually in person (but can be over the phone/email if you are in separate offices). The consultants on the team will talk through next steps and tasks for the day. Typically this ends up being the "tasks for the morning" because you always have new developments by the afternoon! Even so, it is very important to be aligned with your team or at least within your workstream (which is just a sub-team handling a specific part of the case), and gives your supervisor peace of mind.
9am to noon – Work: For a strategy case, this changes from week to week. For example, at the start you would do high level tasks like testing the end-goal ambition (and making sure it is reasonable). If the client wants to increase their revenue, you would want to look at their product portfolio and industry benchmarks to see what kind of annual growth rate you would need, and if it is doable in their industry. Later on in the case, you'd typically do deep-dives on actionable items (e.g. increasing marketing spend) and evaluate which of them are attractive.
Noon – Lunch: From Monday to Thursday, you generally work from the client's office, and this means you get to sit with your case team in the same room. You end up getting lunch together, which I always find to be a great experience. Everyone I meet here is genuinely very interesting and has done exciting stuff, and lunchtime is a good opportunity to chat and share your experiences! On Fridays, you work from the company office and so that's when you can meet up with your friends outside of the case team.
Half noon till 3pm – Back to work: Work-wise, not much has changed by this point, and usually you continue the same work you have been doing in the morning. However, you're definitely not supposed to silo off and do your own thing; I usually keep sending quick updates on IM (over-communication is always better than under-communication).
3pm – Check-in: This is when you start the second part of the day. This is similar to the morning huddle; you'll talk about your work so far and discuss next steps. It can be really good to have this chat even if you are clear on the work ahead. For example, I've discovered occasionally that I was doing a piece of work in a much greater level of detail than necessary.
3pm till 6pm – Work: I often end up working on a different piece after this check-in. I think this is quite good because of 2 reasons. First, it keeps the work interesting. Second, it motivates you to be 80/20 in your approach (focus your effort because 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort).
Coffee chats in the afternoon: I actually really enjoy these if I am working from the company office. People at my firm are very open to meeting new faces and learning about each other, and coffee chats are perfect for this. For example, I sometimes grab coffee with people involved in things I like, such as music (the company has a band!) and engineering. I think it's important to keep your workplace enjoyable, and these chats definitely work for me! If I'm at the client site, this is usually just a quick coffee break with the team.
6pm onwards – Late work and dinner: Beyond 6pm, your schedule depends on the case and manager. For the tougher projects, you'll keep working as needed, with a dinner break at 8pm (usually with your team). If you have a nice manager (and most managers are nice), you can head off and pick up from home. So even when work is tough, it can still be possible to get dinner with family and friends (this helps you maintain the facade of being sociable during the week).
Client meetings: Throughout the day, you usually have a few client meetings. The consultants generally ask questions about the client's company (and often ask for the data we need), while the client checks in on the progress made.
BONUS 1 – Fridays: Fridays are usually a bit relaxed, and each case team has a meeting where we discuss how the team is feeling (through an anonymised survey). Everyone's encouraged to give feedback, and there are always loads of snacks. At 5, most of the office gets together in the cafe for Friday beers. This is where you usually catch up with everyone outside of your team (since it can often be hard to align your schedules). Everyone's also generally expected to finish work by this time, so that you can get your weekend started!
BONUS 2 – PD chats: Every couple of weeks, you'll sit down with other team members for a Professional Development chat over lunch or coffee. This is always 1-on-1, so you'll probably have 1 or 2 of these a week, depending on the size of your team. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at the start to get feedback from your supervisors this frequently, but it's actually quite helpful. I find that it helps to be as transparent as possible, so if you're struggling with something like Excel, you would mention it and ask for advice. Self-awareness is very important for improvement, and so people always appreciate when you can identify your development points.
Side note: Travel cases
If you are on a travel case (about half the time), you fly to the client's city on Monday morning and work there until Thursday evening. Everyone comes back to the office for Friday.
So that's it! Hopefully that demystifies the consulting job a bit for anyone considering joining the industry. The actual work you do varies a lot from case to case (it can be financial modelling, or fact hunting, or presentation building) but one thing is for sure – you will constantly be learning something new!